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It's the Small Things

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"The Sentiment of Style" is a recurring series based on the notion that the most treasured things we own -- our homes, clothing, jewelry, art and accessories -- are objects of equal intimacy to us as our friends, family and mentors. Whether we realize it or not, these items tell stories. Those we keep the longest, and miss the most once they're gone, have the best tales to tell.

THERE IS NOTHING minimal about the way I live -- nor is there anything particularly "minimal" about the way a minimalist lives.

Visiting Donald Judd's newly restored home in New York reminded me that the small things make all the difference. His art and furniture are well-known, but the items he salvaged from the building (a five-story cast-iron structure in Soho, built in 1870) after he bought it tell you a lot about how he lived every day, as do the other artifacts throughout the house: the African masks and baskets that line the staircase; the numerous early American enameled pots and ceramics in the kitchen; the books, photographs and rocks on his bookcases; even the soap dishes in the bathrooms.

I believe the art of living lies in narrowing the gap between what we display and what we use. When I worked in film, I had a rule: acquire some thing from each movie as a reminder. When I travel, I take home at least one item as a memory; when I design a home or a hotel, I collect some trapping that speaks to the project; when I go to a flea market, I usually find a tempting small trinket, so I go ahead and get it.

At a certain point, fairly early on, I had to confront the fact that I had more decorative bowls than I could possibly display, more vases than I could fill with flowers and, in general, more objects than horizontal surfaces. Yet I wanted to hold onto most of the possessions I had curated over the years: some for their beauty, others their sentiment and, in many instances, both.

So I asked myself, do I have more than I can use? The answer was no. I began moving beautiful bowls, boxes and vases inside cabinets to hold safety pins, glue, batteries, Post-Its and the sundry stuff we use every day. I strived to enrich the experience of daily life by making each thing I touched meaningful.

Meaning, beauty, sentiment -- none trumps the act of living. We don't take up residence in museums, and we shouldn't aspire to. Homes are meant to be lived in, and as a result, things sometimes break. They can be replaced. The joy of using something special every day far outweighs the pain of saying goodbye once it has been used too much.

As time passes, things I once thought were beautiful no longer strike me as such, and memories I thought I could never live without have less significance. As a result, sporadically, I look at my horizontal surfaces and inside my cabinets and cupboards and ask: Is this still significant? If not, I relinquish it. There will always be more projects, more trips and more flea markets.

My passion for objects -- large and small, modest and immodest, old and new, made and found, foreign and familiar -- has led me to the place where nearly everything I touch every day augurs a small celebration, making even the most monotonous activity a rich experience. Not everyone shares this passion, I realize -- but I'd wager that everyone would like to be able to smile while reaching for the cup that holds the toothbrush.

Maximize the mundane, and narrow the gap between the experience of aesthetic beauty and the quotidian rigors of everyday life. It enhanced the life of Donald Judd, and it does the same for me. It'll enhance yours as well.